Parenting the good kids and the odd ones out

Parenting the good kids and the odd ones out

A few years ago, I heard Susan Wise Bauer, author of The Well-Trained Mind, speak at a conference. She’s an old college professor of mine, and also a public figure, who doesn’t talk much publicly about her family. But in this session, she got more personal than usual, explaining that older parents are supposed to share whatever wisdom they have with younger ones.

I’m a decade or so behind her, and I’m so grateful she did. That was years ago, and what she said that day changed the way I thought about myself, and about my kids. About other people’s kids, too, really.

That day, Susan said, “Every family with three or more kids has one kid that they just can’t figure out.” (I’m curious to hear your thoughts—is this your experience, as a child or as a parent?)

I have four kids, and do I ever relate. 

The odd kid out

The odd kid out isn’t necessarily a social misfit; instead this is the kid who isn’t like her siblings, the one who doesn’t fit neatly into your family system. There are many possibilities for why this kid doesn’t groove, among them:

• slower chronological development (either physically or emotionally)
• different ways of processing information
• lack of awareness of social cues
• different priorities

These kids tend to have their struggles early in life: their struggle is to find their place.

The good kid

The good kid, on the other hand, is the one who seems to practically raise himself. This is the kid who doesn’t put a foot out of line, who doesn’t get his name written on the board, who gets his homework done early and puts himself to bed on time.

That all sounds great, so what’s the problem?

• Many good kids operate out of fear.
• They’re afraid people will reject them if they fail, so they never fail.

The good kids tend to struggle in the middle. These are the kids who sail through adolescence drama-free, only to have a massive breakdown in their early thirties.

(I was a good kid.)

Bringing it home

It’s normal for kids to need help understanding who they are, what they’re like, what they need. Teaching kids to self-evaluate is key, especially for the kids who are struggling to find their place in the world.

Many kids—especially the kids who are a little out of step with the world, or even with their families—aren’t particularly self-aware. But self-awareness is a huge life skill: that’s what keeps you from having an epic meltdown about the state of your whole entire life because you’re hungry.

What those kids (and let’s be honest: some grown-ups) need is a way to think about themselves.

How do you do that? I was overjoyed when Susan validated my inner personality geek, and told us, Do every personality quiz you can. Then celebrate the results, no matter what they are: That’s what type you are! Isn’t that cool?

Personality assessment tools give people language to talk about what’s going on in their heads, their work, their relationships. These tools help people see patterns and problems, strengths and potential shortcomings. I wrote a whole book about how understanding personality—your own and others—will change your life; it’s called Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, and it comes out on September 19. My experience writing this book has only deepened my appreciation for the difference these tools can make in your life.

But most kids won’t find those tools on their own. It’s up to us, the grown-ups, to point them in the right direction.

I’m also grateful that Susan made it clear that it’s not “better” to be a good kid, or the odd duck. The good kid and the odd kid out both have the same distance to go. It’s easy for parents to think that the odd kids out are (unpleasantly) challenging and the good kids are pure joy to parent, but that’s just not so. Both these kids have their struggles, but those struggles look different, and crop up at different times.

I’m eager to hear about your experience with this. Tell me about growing up as the good kid or the odd kid out, or the sibling to one. Parents: do you see these dynamics at work in your own family? I’d love to hear the details. Feel free to keep your comments anonymous.  

P.S. Buy Reading People at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, Book Depository, or wherever new books are sold.

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  1. Liza says:

    I was the good kid in my family. Until I got pregnant my junior year of college.

    I have three kids and my middle is the odd duck. Not because we don’t understand him, but because he’s the extrovert in a family of introverts. He likes noise and makes a lot of noise (there’s a sound effect for everything) and the rest of us like calm and quiet. When we talk about each other’s quirks, a) we talk about EVERYONE’s quirks, not just one person, and b) I make sure to say that there’s nothing wrong with how you are; it’s just the truth. This is you. And that’s fine. Although sometimes, I do have to tell him to just shut up already because my introvert brain can’t handle any more noise. 🙂

  2. Molly says:

    Wow, thank you for this! This totally resonated with me and I know it will stick with me as a parent of two kiddos with very different personalities! I definitely have a “good kid” and an odd but sweet little duck!

  3. Ashley says:

    I would absolutely LOVE to see hear of any personality tests designed specifically for children. Most of the ones that I see say that it only really works with adults who have fully come into their personalities, which is great for me, but unhelpful when I have four kids who are nine and under. I have an odd duck and a good kid and two neutrals, so I would love to be able to give all of them some insight to themselves.

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